Know the Benefits and Types of Vegetarian Diets
There is a growing trend of vegetarianism throughout the world. About 6% of Americans say that they have a meatless diet, and more and more people are reducing their meat consumption. This is normalizing conversation about the merits of a plant-based diet, while bringing specific diet names, such as vegan, pescatarian, and flexitarian, into our colloquial language.
why people are choosing vegetarian diets
There are a lot of good reasons to consider cutting down your meat intake. Even just reducing meat, and not eliminating it completely, can have benefits. As we learn more about long-term health risks, as well as spiritual and environmental consequences of high meat consumption, a greater population is asking if eating meat is worth the costs.
Below are some reasons people are stripping meat from their diet and focusing on plant-based options.
reducing meat for health
Years ago, there was a concern that vegetarian diets were unhealthy. However, scientific studies are now showing that well-planned vegetarian diets can help prevent, and even cure, some diseases. Well-planned, or “appropriately planned” is important to achieving health goals associated with diet changes. When removing options from your diet, be sure to get those nutrients and vitamins from other sources. Calcium, iron, and protein are common concerns for vegetarians. There are plenty of foods with these nutrients, but those that stop eating meat should be conscious to seek them out.
In general, however, increasing plant-based foods and reducing meat in your diet has proven benefits for health. Some of these are a lower risk or impact of:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- chronic disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
It has also been found that vegetarians have a 10% lower cancer risk than meat eaters. This may be because many producers of livestock rely heavily on hormones and antibiotics to protect their product. Livestock pumped with hormones and antibiotics, which are then consumed by humans, passes health risks onto humans. Many vegetarians want to avoid CAFO-raised (concentrated animal feeding operation) meat for this reason.
reducing meat for the environment
By refusing meat, you greatly reduce the role you play in the environmental degradation it causes.
CAFOs not only threaten human health with the additional chemicals used on livestock. They house thousands of animals and produce massive amounts of waste. They are responsible for polluting nearby waterways, air, and land. Because of the proximity to each other, animals are pumped full of antibiotics to avoid sickness. These are flushed in their waste, which is rarely treated once excreted. These toxins remain in excrement and leach into the local environment’s soil, air, and water sources.
There are 168 gases that are emitted from CAFO waste, including hazardous chemicals like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, as well as the greenhouse gas methane.
greenhouse gas emissions
Animal waste emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat in our atmosphere. On top of that, however, there are high greenhouse gas emissions associated with growing our food’s food. Carbon is released from trees that are cut down to make way for crops like corn and soy. Nitrogen-rich fertilizer contributes N2O into the atmosphere, which can last a hundred years. Scientists recently discovered that N2O is rising more rapidly than predicted and could possibly contribute to rapidly increasing global temperatures.
A single pound of beef requires 1800 gallons of water to produce. The Water Footprint Calculator breaks water use down into three categories, which help us understand the sources of water in our food. A Green water footprint refers to the amount of rainwater tied up into the meat. This is usually for the plants that were grown (such as corn and soy) to feed the livestock. They are watered by rain only. Blue water refers to the consumption of surface and groundwater. This may feed the livestock and come from feed crops that are irrigated. Grey water refers to fresh water required to dilute polluted water associated with field or farm runoff.
Did you know that 80% of Amazon deforestation comes from cattle ranching? The global impacts are enormous. Deforestation contributes to emissions of trapped carbon, which is a driver of climate change. Fewer trees mean a smaller carbon sink in a time when human activity is causing carbon dioxide emissions to rise above previously stable levels.
The Amazon Rainforest is the greatest biologically diverse ecosystem in the world. We’ve yet to even identify all the species that live there, yet we are destroying them and their home for fast food hamburgers.
The world’s addiction to meat is hugely detrimental to the planet in a variety of ways. Pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and human health risks from environmental negligence are all consequences of increased meat production. Chicken has the lowest environmental impact compared with beef and chicken, while beef has the highest. So if you want to make a change in your diet for the environment, reducing or cutting out beef should be a part of that change.
vegetarian for spiritual and religious reasons
Many vegetarians feel a sense of guilt about eating meat. It stems from the concept that animals are sentient beings and experience suffering. Vegetarians struggle to justify inflicting suffering when there are healthy, delicious alternatives that provide all the nutrients needed without suffering. Their compassion turns into a habit, and avoiding meat is part of their compassion and value system.
It’d be hard to argue that animals don’t suffer. These animals that are raised for food have a low quality of life, often pumped full of growth hormones that makes their physical body uncomfortably large and unnatural. They are caged up for life with limited space. And their final moment of life is an insensitive, gruesome death. Then those animals are processed into ground hamburger patties or chicken fingers. It’s grisly, actually, if you take a minute to think about it.
And most vegetarians have.
reducing meat for money
Meat isn’t cheap. And a lot of people are finding that it is significantly gentler on the wallet to stock up on produce and avoid the meat aisle altogether.
According to Money.com, going vegetarian can save around $750 per year!
So, you may be thinking that vegetarianism sounds pretty good. Prevent health risks, environmental damage, and stop playing a role in the slaughter of innocent beings. But it’s hard to change those habits, right?
Well, there are a variety of ways you can reduce your meat intake. And there are a variety of different diets. Take a look below to see if one is right for you.
types of vegetarian diets
There are a few variations of vegetarian diets. Although they share the avoidance of meat, they differ in the types of animal products in their diets.
A Lacto-vegetarian avoid meats, fish and eggs, but will eat dairy, such as yogurt and cheeses.
An Ovo-vegetarian avoids meat and fish, as well as dairy, but might consume animal products, like eggs.
A Lacto-ovo vegetarian allows animal products, such as cheese, yogurt, eggs, honey, gelatin into their diets, but avoids meat and fish.
A vegan diet is the strictest vegetarian diet, avoiding all meats, fish and animal products. Vegans will not eat honey or eggs and will even avoid gelatin.
almost vegetarian diets
While vegetarians are strict about not consuming meat 100% of the time, there is a diet that is primarily vegetarian, but may consume meat on occasion. This is called Flexitarian.
Flexitarians have a diet that is comprised of mainly grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, they may occasionally eat meat or fish, and aren’t as strict about animal products like eggs or honey.
A slightly stricter flexitarian branch is the Pescatarian diet. Pescatarians will eat fish and seafood, but avoid meat, such as beef, pork, and poultry. They follow a vegetarian diet outside of the addition of fish, shellfish, and seafood.
If you are tentative about trying a meatless diet, do the guilty granola thing. Just start small! You don’t have to be perfect. Check out this quick blog about ways to reduce meat in your diet.
And as a meat eater who might be entertaining someone who doesn’t eat meat, the most restrictive diet is that of veganism. Vegan recipes aren’t that hard to come by and should be relatively easy to accommodate, even for a holiday like Thanksgiving.
Check out this blog for some turkey replacements for your upcoming Thanksgiving meal!